In a society where aggression and independence are revered, soft-hearted people are sometimes viewed with suspicion. But kindness can be a superpower.
Our society makes a big deal of people who achieve physical acts of courage like climbing mountains or risking their lives to save others. But there is a different kind of heroism that is often overlooked.
Soft-hearted people are not weak; in fact, quite the opposite. Kindness and generosity are gifts that can truly make our world a better place.
Why is kindness viewed with suspicion?
Soft-hearted people are viewed with suspicion by those who believe everyone is out for what’s in it for them in life. When someone acts kindly, it can sometimes be met with suspicion and questions such as “what do they really want?’ or “what are they up to?”
So, is it true that kindness always has an ulterior motive? While some people engage in good deeds to ease their conscience, gain approval or impress others, I think that true kindness and soft-heartedness do exist.
The ego and the selfish gene
We have been taught, based on the work of psychologists such as Freud and biologists such as Richard Dawkins, that human beings are incapable of true generosity. The idea is that we are all out to satisfy our egos and pass on our genes.
Freud believed that for most of our adult lives, we want to protect ourselves and our egos. We fight for our place in the world, our share of the goodies and to achieve recognition from others while having plenty of sex to pass on our genes. Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene, suggests that humans, like other animals, simply want to pass on their genes, too.
But this misses an important point about human nature. Humans have always worked together for the greater good of the tribe or the group. There have always been humans who have helped those less well off than themselves, including animals and plants, with no thought of what they might gain. Think of the great work done by Mother Theresa as an example.
Recent psychological studies suggest that human motivations are much more complicated than mere biology. Many studies have emphasized the human need for a sense of meaning and a desire to feel connected with others.
The psychology behind kindness
Freud’s rival Alfred Adler certainly thought our motivations are more complicated. His most influential idea was that people have a social interest – that is an interest in furthering the welfare of others. He believed that humans understand that collaborating and cooperating with one another as individuals and communities can benefit society as a whole.
Taylor and Philips in their book On Kindness suggest that without language and work among others, we have no meaning. They suggest that for true meaning, we must make ourselves open. To collaborate for the common good, we have to give and take without the guarantee of reward. We need to be kind. We need to move from defensiveness and take a chance on being vulnerable.
However, being soft-hearted and generous in our current society can lead us to be taken advantage of.
Kindness only really works if everyone is collaborating for the good of all. A soft-hearted person can be taken advantage of by someone who is still in the ego driven stage of life. This can result in our acts of kindness leaving us feeling let down and put upon. There is a case for setting up good boundaries so that we are not repeatedly abused for our good nature.
But if soft-heartedness is really the only way that our society can become more collaborative and cooperative, then kindness is a not just a strength – it is a superpower. Practicing kindness may not always be easy and it may sometimes leave us feeling hurt and let down. However, it is an act of great courage and strength to choose kindness over our own selfish needs and desires.
Do you believe that humans are capable of selflessness and true generosity? Share your thought with us in the comments.